Yoga is a very individual practice. It gives you a chance to withdraw from your external environment, close off the senses and look deeper within. It allows you to open up both physically and emotionally and grow on a personal level. Yoga is about listening to your body, your breath. It’s about finding a level that is comfortable for you and going at your own pace.
Although the personal and individual element of yoga is very apparent, involving a partner in your practice can be beneficial as well. Partner yoga is a unique way to help both parties mutually achieve their goals in yoga. Whether it be your significant other, family member or friend, incorporating a partner into your practice offers a different way to delve deeper in your yogic journey.
The power of partners
Partner yoga is all about mutual dependence and benefit. Together, you and your partner assist and support one another. You will guide each other deeper into poses, create new asanas and experience new and different benefits in your practice at the same time. It is a unique and creative way to grow in your practice.
As partner yoga naturally involves touch, it is understandably important to choose a partner you are comfortable with. Partner yoga is ideal for couples. It’s a great way to spend time and connect with each other on a deeper level. It allows you to work on communication and be attentive and sensitive to your partner. Yoga, after all, means union, and partner yoga is a great means to deepen a bond between two people and connect them in the moment with each other.
Look for a like-minded partner who wants to deepen their practice and mutually assist you at the same time.
However, don’t discount friends, family or anyone serious about improving their practice. Look for a like-minded partner who wants to deepen their practice and mutually assist you at the same time. If you can’t find someone at your same level, don’t worry. The Beauty is your partner, regardless of ability, can help you conquer poses you might struggle with and reach new heights.
Although your best friend or spouse might be a great option, remember to retain that present, calm state of mind during the practice. Partner yoga allows for a lot of creativity and fun. However, involving someone else does have the potential to distract you and turn the session into a catch-up chat. Try to keep in mind the ultimate goals of yoga and balance it with the more interactive elements that come with involving a partner.
Old pose, new experience
When practising at home, we often get frustrated because there’s no teacher to guide or adjust us. It can also be difficult to know what to do and how keep it interesting. This is where a partner may be helpful. Although the experience of a teacher is unparalleled, having a partner can be very effective when it comes to things such as adjustments or increasing awareness when in a pose.
In any asana, there’s a lot to focus on. For instance, in trikonasana (triangle pose) you’re focusing on keeping the arms straight from bottom to top. You’re concentrating on lengthening the spine, lifting and rotating the chest, targeting your drishti (gaze) on the palm of the extended arm and breathing, all at the same time. Even making the smallest adjustment, such as straightening out your partner’s arm, can make all the difference and create alignment in a pose. It can then bring awareness to the arm and how it should be.
... when supporting and adjusting your partner, you must listen to them to find out what feels comfortable and when they reach their limit.
Another aspect of partner yoga I’ve mentioned is creating new benefits in an old pose or creating a new pose altogether. Take again trikonasana. If trikonasana is performed with two people standing back to back in the pose with their arms intertwined, it’s as if they are flat against a wall. The spine is almost forced to straighten and the chest opens. Linking the arms works to lift you up so you don’t sink into the hand placed on the floor.
To make your partner yoga experience a positive one that enhances your practice, there are a few things to keep in mind. Whether at beginner or advanced level, there is always a certain degree of trust involved in partner yoga. Although you are involving a partner, the aim of the practice doesn’t change. You still want to maintain that presence and focus in the moment. Therefore, you must have that trust in your partner so you don’t have to worry about what they are doing to support or adjust you in a pose. This makes communication and co-operation very important elements in partner yoga. If you are in a pose, you must listen to your body and communicate your needs effectively. In turn, when supporting and adjusting your partner, you must listen to them to find out what feels comfortable and when they reach their limit. It’s about listening, taking direction and subtle guidance, rather than pushing each other into alignment or a pose.
Partner yoga can be as simple or challenging as you want it to be. Whether adjusting, practising side by side or creating new asanas altogether, partner yoga can help you experience the benefits of yoga in a new way. Let’s take a look at some examples.
As in any practice, start your partner yoga session with a warm-up. Surya namaskara (Sun Salutations) are a great way to warm up the body and partners can be easily integrated. You could simply practise Sun Salutations side by side or make it more interactive. Try alternating and calling out the asanas in the sequence and synchronising your movements with the breath. This will help make sure you are both breathing in synch and will remind you of the proper breathing patterns linked with each pose in the sequence. For example, inhaling as you lift your arms up; exhaling as you enter uttanasana; inhaling as you lunge back and so on. If you know the traditional chanting that accompanies the sequence, it might also be fun to integrate this here. Chanting with someone can also be wonderfully calming and meditative.
Once warmed-up, you will be ready to have some fun and experience some well-known asanas in a completely different way. For a well-rounded practice, I’ll also take a look at how partners can assist with relaxation.
Warrior II (virabhadrasana II)
Virabhadrasana II shows how partner yoga really works to mutually benefit both parties. Begin by standing side by side. Both you and your partner can complete the following steps together. Take a big step to the side with your outside foot and bend the knee so it comes in line with the ankle. Keep your other foot next to your partner’s and extend both arms out to the side. Now, grab hold of your partner’s hand. You might need to move your bent leg forward slightly so you can completely out stretch your arms. Once in the right position, gently pull on each other’s hand. You will feel yourselves supporting each other with the pose and stretch connecting you. The sides of your feet should still be touching and this will bring awareness and remind you to keep the back leg straight. You will feel the stretch in your shoulders, hips and legs.
Child’s pose (balasana)
This is a simple adjustment you can do to your partner that feels great. Sit on your shins with some distance between your knees. Extend your arms and walk your hands forward into child’s pose. Your partner, standing behind you, can use both hands to press down on the sacrum. Keeping one hand on the sacrum, they can then move the other between the shoulder blades. Communicate with your partner so they know your comfort level and whether pressure needs to be reduced or increased. Thanks to your partner, this adjustment helps to lengthen the spine and lets you go deeper into the hips. Your partner can also stand in front of you and pull your arms forward to further increase the stretch in the spine and arms.
Wide-angled seated forward bend (upavistha konasana)
Sit on the floor and open your legs as wide as feels comfortable. Your partner will sit in front of you and assume almost the same position. However, their legs will not be open as wide and their feet will roughly touch your ankles. Extend your hands in front of you and let your partner grab hold of them. Your partner will now slowly pull your arms forward. In the process they will lean back to bring you further down. You do not need to bring your head and arms down to the floor as in a traditional konasana. Instead, in this pose, you will bring greater awareness to your spine, hips and buttocks, which should maintain contact with the mat. Feel the stretch through the legs and spine.
Boat pose (navasana)
Navasana is a fun pose that looks beautiful, too. Sit opposite your partner with your knees bent and a bit of distance between each other. Grab your feet. Now, start to raise the legs and straighten the knees. Take your time to find your balance and place the soles of your feet on those of your partner, who should be in the same position. Lower your hands to hip level, extend them at your side and then grab hold of your partner’s hands. You just might need to do a little moving around to make sure you have the right distance to ensure the legs stay locked. If you are at different flexibility levels, you may bend your knees. Keep the back straight and engage the abdominals. Navasana is a great core strengthener and using a partner lets you have the additional benefit of stretching the hamstrings.
Standing forward bend (uttanasana)
Stand back to back but a couple of feet distance from each other. Inhale and come into a half forward bend in unison with your partner. While in half forward bend bring your hands between your legs and grab hold of your partner’s hands. Keep your chest up and spine neutral and gently start to pull your partner’s arms forward so they can go deeper into uttanasana. Your partner’s head will come closer to their knees. Let them feel the stretch through the hamstrings and back, and listen to their direction to increase or reduce the stretch.
Downward dog & back bend
Let’s start with the partner, who will be in down dog. Assume the position with your hips up and heels coming down onto the mat. The neck should be loose so your head hangs down. Maintain the lift in the hips so your body resembles an inverted letter V. Now, for the back bend. The other partner will stand between your hands with their back facing you. Then, they will place their hands behind them onto your back and start to lower themself down. Once your backs are touching, the partner in the backbend will lift their arms over their head and stretch through to their fingertips. In these poses you completely support each other so there is no discomfort. In downward dog, you are supporting your partner so they can open their chest, while your partner helps bring awareness to your hips and enhances the stretch through the hamstrings.
Relaxation with a partner
To finish your session, you can also integrate relaxation and breathing techniques with a partner. It could be as simple as sitting back to back in any seated position and breathing together. You could choose any technique, but it might be easier to simply establish and breathe together in a fixed rhythmic pattern. For example, inhaling and exhaling to the count of four. Sitting back to back will also bring awareness to the spine, allowing you to fully open the chest so you can breathe deeply.
You could even consider assisting each other in yoga nidra. Yoga nidra is a state of complete relaxation where you are neither awake nor asleep. The aim is to withdraw your senses and awareness from the external environment and take them inward. There are lots of yoga nidra books and scripts available that you could use to recite to your partner. However, if you are creative, you can have a lot of fun making up your own yoga nidra script. You could incorporate visualisation, the breath, chanting or chakras.
Use simple instructions in a calm tone of voice to gently guide your partner so they bring awareness to these elements. You could also do a body scan and get your partner to concentrate on different points of the body. Your instructions to your partner could simply be, “Relax the feet.” Give your partner a few moments to really focus their awareness on this part of the body and concentrate on the breath. Then continue to travel further up the body, asking them to “relax” or bring focus to every major part.
Having a partner guide you through yoga nidra might give you more incentive to really focus your mind and could possibly help you avoid falling asleep (which many people often end up doing). Yoga nidra can have an amazing, calming effect when followed properly. The only hard thing is choosing who gets to go first.
Veronica Joseph is a yoga teacher and writer based in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, Australia. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.